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Obama Calls For Trade Growth, Infrastructure Improvements in SOTU

The expansion of the sales of U.S.-produced goods overseas comprised the primary ag-related theme in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

A big hurdle standing in the way of a "level playing field" for U.S. products in global markets is the wages paid by nations like China, and that puts U.S.-made products and goods at a disadvantage. That makes trade promotion authority such a necessity in the context of federal policy, President Obama said Tuesday, and that makes it a priority for the coming year.

"Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen?" Obama said during Tuesday's State of the Union address. "We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair."

Trade promotion authority (TPA) is something that's got support on both sides of the political aisle; the recent announcement that the federal government is going to take steps to restore trade with Cuba, likely in the next year, is just one effort ag leaders say can help open new markets for their products.

"Modernized TPA improves our nation’s ability to advance trade agreements that open markets for U.S. farmers," National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Chip Bowling said in a statement Tuesday night. "Ag exports, at nearly $150 billion, support over one million American jobs."

Adds American Soybean Association president Wade Cowan: "Trade Promotion Authority is long overdue. The United States is currently involved in the negotiation of major trade deals...which have the potential help to protect and expand agriculture market access in the Pacific Rim and Europe. Soybeans are the nation's leading farm export, and it's critically important that Congress pass and the President sign a completed TPA package that will lay the groundwork for robust and comprehensive trade agreements."

Cuba's just one region targeted by TPA, for which Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst voiced her party's support in her response to Obama's address Tuesday night. U.S. leaders are "pursuing an ambitious set of trade negotiations" that includes a Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Policy-wise, TPA gives the President the authority to move trade agreements to Congress free of amendments, a procedure an NCGA report says "assures our trading partners that a final deal won't be altered by Congress.

"We are encouraged by Senator Ernst's call to work together and tear down trade barriers. Couple TPA with normalized relations with Cuba, and farmers and consumers -- both here and abroad -- will benefit," NCGA's Bowling said Tuesday.

Growing U.S. trade, especially for corn and soybeans, can't happen without major action to modernize the nation's shipping infrastructure. That's one area where federal action is needed, Cowan says, and one the President enumerated in his remarks Tuesday as part of a broader plan to bolster the nation's "21st century infrastructure.

"21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline," Obama said. "Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come."

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